Mr. Speaker, I would just like to add a few remarks to the debate on the legislation. I will not go over some of the ground that other members have spoken to already.
I listened carefully to the remarks of the House leader in introducing the bill and to the member for Fredericton. I largely endorse what the member for Fredericton has said. His personal experience is a valuable guide for the House as we think about how the bill might be improved. By and large I support it. It is a move in the right direction.
I was just getting active in politics when the current bill was brought in and when we first adopted the principle of the public, through a tax credit, supporting the activity of political parties. At that time there was a lot of excitement about the tool that this provided to us in helping to encourage individual citizens to get involved in politics. We had a great deal of enthusiasm and hope at that time that this would give us a way to really focus our energies on citizens and electors and perhaps even then of some of the corporate concerns that were arising.
Over time, as that tool became weaker, because it was not upgraded and because inflationary pressures and such were not addressed, there was a diminution of the use of it and some concerns about it. This is a welcome improvement, in particular that this would take us back to that base. There is a saying that the best protection of democracy is an act of citizenry. If the bill becomes a way to encourage and support the activities of citizens in support of the political parties of their choice, that is a very positive step.
There are some things in the bill that are worth underlining. The problem, if I could start that way, with the current legislation is that it does not go far enough on the transparency and disclosure side. It was not until we got into this debate that I even realized it was possible for a member to raise funds that were not receipted. I thought all political donations had to be receipted, and I acted in accordance with that.
A lot of the concerns and worries we have about undue influence and all of that are always made worse by a lack of transparency. Those provisions that call for annual reporting by everyone who raises funds, an annual disclosure of the funds raised and what they are used for, would go a long way to restoring public trust. Frankly if people saw the reality of some of this, they would not be as concerned as some of them rightly are.
The second thing that is touched upon, or hinted at, or that is a possibility in the way the bill is structured, and it has been an active debate among myself and some of my colleagues, is the way the bill begins to pick apart some of the structural items in the organization of a political party. I certainly cannot speak to the organizational structures of other political parties in the House, but it makes a nice separation between the member and his or her association and the party. I would argue that we need to go even further and look within that in the provincial and territorial associations. One way to conceptualize this, and the way I conceptualize our party, is a group of individual associations which come together collectively to create the territorial associations which come together collectively in a federation to create the national party. The national party, like the country, is indeed a federation.
We got that model wrong when we started to centralize a lot of the authority and control for fundraising in the national party rather than for those who were fundraising. For example, I could raise all sorts of money, and am a very active fundraiser. I raised funds in a number of guises for theatres and social causes prior to being elected. The techniques and work of fundraising are something I understand well.
I could raise money right now and it would get sent in and receipted in Ottawa. That donation can be found on the website but it can also be found somewhere within pages and pages of information. It is hard to pick out whether it is a donation to me in my riding. There is nothing that breaks that out for us and there is absolutely nothing that happens in terms of my reporting what I do with the money. Those are important flaws.
The more that I am held accountable for the fundraising I do, the reporting of the use of it and the accounting for it, I think the more confidence people will have in the kind of work I do. I currently report on the money I spend in my riding because it is good practice. That would be a healthy change.
I note the Ontario members on the provincial side have, as all members have during an election campaign, the ability to continue throughout the year to offer tax receipts, collect the money and report on it. There are some useful changes.
On the picking apart of the corporate versus individual, I am a bit of an agnostic on a piece of that. I heard one member on the other side talk about how the Americans had a $1,000 cap on individual contributions and no corporate contributions since 1976, I think. That is right but they opened a big back door and drove all the corporate contributions into big packs. The packs are as powerful or more powerful a force in American politics than any corporation in Canada. I do not think that is a healthy thing, and I am not certain I would want to see us go in that direction.
We are trying to deal with a concern about corporate influence by limiting or trying to find ways to squeeze down that activity. Transparency will be a greater tool than any other control but I am not concerned about the $1,000 limit.
I want to raise something on the question of public financing though. I listened to the member for Elk Island. He raised a concern about having someone come to his door selling Liberal tickets and him having to buy one. I do not think there is anything in the bill that would do that. I think he is saying that he has no objection to the current system where if he gets a donation for his campaign from someone, the public gives him $75 of the first $100. He gets public money back for that. The only the test of any activity is the fact that he is the member of a party and somebody is prepared to give him money.
However he is concerned about money being transferred to him on the basis of his having the electoral support of those same citizens. In a funny way he is saying that he does not think people should be forced to pay, even through the public purse, for political choices they do not want. Yet the proposal is that if there were x number of thousands of people who voted for him, then his party would receive money on that basis. I am not sure how solid his argument is.
It is a new area for us but the reality is that every party has to run an infrastructure, every party has to communicate with 301 ridings and every party has to raise money just to keep the organizational structures alive. The one thing this will do is clarify that. It will put it out for all to see. It will make it logical and predictable. I think it also will reduce some pressure on parties and allow them to get on with the work they need to get on with, which is to represent the citizens that put them there in the first place.
However in that same vein, I have a concern. It is one of those concerns that may be out there a bit. It always worries me when I see central control of some of these fundamental processes that could serve to exclude other groups from getting involved, and I would want to look very carefully at those provisions.
I recently read Preston Manning's book. I think the founding meetings of the Alliance Party took place because certain individuals were prepared to write some very large cheques to underwrite some conventions. I am not saying that to be critical.
There needs to be legitimate opportunities for people who descent, who do not like the existing parties and who have concerns about government to express that, to come together and organize around that. I would be cautious about it, if between elections we were to put funding rules in place that made it impossible for other groups to get active or made it difficult for them to get started. This would be a detriment to the nature of democracy in the country.
Beyond that, I am supportive of the bill. I look forward to it going to committee. I suspect there will be some interesting and important amendments made there.